I don't know about you guys, but I mostly play support. As a support, my life has gotten incredibly more difficult over the past months. If we disregard all the buffs to supports, with cheaper Wards etc., the viability of supports such as Bounty Hunter and Riki has made it incredibly more difficult to keep your team happy. Solo support? Even worse.
But it actually started earlier. When jungling Sand King became a thing. A lot of my midlaners would be unaware of the fact, that a Sand King can come killing them with a Blink Dagger, once the clock crosses the 8-9 minute mark. "Where's the support" they'll ask. Tell me this hasn't happened to you. I see it happen quite frequently, people overestimating their own power level and underestimating that of their opponents. I have seen Shadow Fiends walk invisible into a support Tusk, sure he'd kill him with his ultimate. Nada. Not even half hp.
So let me talk a bit about power levels and why I think it's important to understand them. The concept described in this blog post may not be nothing new, but it's about putting a name on it and giving an insight as to how I handle it, so that it may help you.
This may not be an established term, but it's the only way to describe what I'm about to say. A power level to me describes the strength of a certain hero with a certain amount of money and levels. It's difficult to quantify a hero's power level, because networth alone does not mean much.
Say an Anti-Mage goes for Power Treads, a Yasha and Battle Fury. His networth will be 7975. An enemy Phantom Lancer may have less networth, say 7425 ( Power Treads, Ring of Aquila, Drum of Endurance, Diffusal Blade) - who's stronger? If both are equal in level, the Phantom Lancer. In fact, PL can even afford to be a level or two below the AM and could probably still be a bigger threat. (depends which levels these are, but more on that later) Thus, his power level is much higher.
Networth not being an exact indicator of a hero's power level, is something that people need to be more aware of in general - when playing and even when spectating a professional match. Two heroes can be apart 2000 Gold in terms of networth, but if those 2000 Gold are only sitting in the bank, then there is no 2000 gold advantage in a fight.
Every hero is different, and thus their potential and their power level is different from any other hero. To put it simply, let's talk about the currently popular Alchemist: Much like Anti-Mage, Alchemist is a carry that relies on flashfarming early on with his Greevil's Greed and building an advantage to get 6 slotted as early as possible. In comparison, carries such as Spectre or Phantom Lancer have no flashfarming capabilities (to a degree). However, when 6 slotted, they are considered stronger and more capable than a 6 slotted Alchemist, although with the Agh's drop for his supports, Alch has value beyond being 6 slotted. Which means, that Alchemist ’s power level is innately weaker than those of other hardcarries, but because he has the flashfarm potential, he makes up for that by peaking earlier.
This same logic applies to many heroes and many scenarios. Certain heroes are played as support or offlane, just because a lack of farm is not detrimental and their power level is still strong enough. An Earthshaker with a Blink Dagger is sufficiently strong. This is certainly nothing new, but it brings me to the next point.
Item and Level timings are important when attempting to asses the opposing and your own power levels. Knowing when an Anti-Mage with freefarm should get his Battle Fury with perfect last-hits is important in knowing when to gank him. An even more important example would be the midlane. If you are a Windranger, starting with a Null Talisman and you face a Zeus that only has 2 Claritys, you have to know that it is inevitable that he will acquire a Bottle soon. If however, he has started with a Null Talisman himself, harassing him is vital in delaying that Bottle/ Soul Ring which is much more important to him than it is to you.
This is one of many examples that can be applied both in lane, but also in the midgame. 15 Minutes in, you see the enemy Spectre running around with nothing but Phase Boots. You assume she is going straight for the Radiance and attempt a kill in order to delay it. Then a minute later, just before you attempt to gank her, you notice Drum of Endurance all of a sudden. Maybe, just maybe you don't go for this gank, because trading 2 for the carry, who is tankier than before mind you, could not work out. Even if it did, would it be worth it?
As for levels - again, most players will know this subconsciously - but understanding that an opponent is significantly weaker because he is lacking a level, most importantly level 6, his ultimate, can and should change your behaviour towards him and the game. A lot of heroes are significantly stronger with level 3, 5 and 6 in the laning stage, just because their primary skill will be stronger and they will acquire an ultimate.
There are some simple steps in how to apply this knowledge properly.
Communication. The first step is to communicate information with your teammates. "Hey Guys, this offlaner is getting quite some XP, I can't fully zone him out." - "Guys, this guy mid is having the time of his life in terms of lasthits". Relay all the necessary information, so your teammates won’t be surprised when there's suddenly an offlane level 6 Clockwerk 6 minutes in, ganking your midlaner. But not only simple information like this is important. Share your assumptions, ask if certain scenarios seem likely. "Could their Sand King have a Blink Dagger already?" - Put your teammates on alert.
Muscle Memory As information is key, it is important to obtain that information. Make it a habit of yours to open the in-game scoreboard every minute or two, to keep tabs on the opponents' levels. Keep clicking on the opponents' heroes to check their inventory. Ping out crucial items, even if someone else has already. Some may overlook it, some may have not paid attention at all. These things must come natural to you.
Pressure. If you know that your team is peaking in terms of power levels - all of you just got another item, everybody hit a crucial level - utilize it to your advantage and force the issue. Even if you're not peaking, if you know and see that your enemies are building up crucial items, hit them while they're vulnerable.
Patience. In that very notion, keep track of your teammates item progressions. Don't initiate a push or a teamfight when you know that your midlane Shadow Fiend has a Mekansm soon. Wait out certain items and levels before acting. Patience becomes even more important the later the game goes on. Often, players feel pressured and think that they need to act. That is not always the case. It is okay to fight with an item and level disadvantage. It is why certain heroes, such as Sniper, used to be popular during a former meta/patch, amongst other things. Even more so, it is why teamfight heroes, such as Sand King, Earthshaker, Magnus, Tidehunter and Enigma will always stay relevant. All you need is a blink and a well placed ultimate to change the game. The item and level disadvantage can be huge, that doesn't mean the power level disadvantage is.
This is my take on power levels, something most of you will be familiar with. I'm curious to see how you handle these scenarios and if you have experienced similar behaviour in-games. I believe that understanding the power levels of each hero and reacting accordingly can set you up to win the game, but of course it ain't that easy.